Tips for Choosing the Right School Technology for Online and Hybrid Learning
While online learning opportunities are now better understood, this new phase of education had a rocky start. Because of the abrupt transition from in-person to online education demanded by COVID-19, schools faced a steep learning curve as they developed online and hybrid learning experiences. Although not ready for the change, schools were forced to adapt or risk losing all connection with students. Many districts stepped up to the plate, and practically overnight, figured out a makeshift plan.
This new approach to learning also presented rigorous challenges to students, parents, and educators. And yet, studies show that even post-pandemic, online learning will retain a strong foothold in the education ecosystem. According to experts in economics and education, a confluence of forces will likely fuel continued demand for online teaching. While most schools already have at least temporary means for providing online education in place, it’s imperative to reevaluate those solutions and develop an ongoing school technology and infrastructure strategy to continue supporting online and hybrid learning.
In this article, we will explore the challenges and benefits presented by supporting online and hybrid learning, and the technology that can help students, teachers, and schools be successful.
The Challenges of Online Learning
As every school district has realized, online learning is not without its challenges. Here are some of the top struggles that districts have faced.
1. Keeping students engaged. The shift to online learning happened quickly. Teachers, many of whom had never taught online, had to adapt lesson plans for digital instruction. Students needed to adjust to a new method of learning, and for many, it was harder to pay attention to a screen than in-person instruction.
2. Figuring out technology requirements. With the quick shift to digital, many districts hadn’t mapped out their technology needs, such as network requirements, which hindered their ability to create a plan and select and implement a technical solution.
3. Securing sensitive information. Security is always a top concern for school districts and many were left unsure of how to secure sensitive information and protect portals to their networks.
A Blended Approach to Learning: The Hybrid Model
Perhaps the biggest challenge of online learning stems from the misconception that technology, alone, can transform education. Adopting a blend of online and in-person instruction helps schools seize the opportunities that online learning has to offer, such as asynchronous learning, self-paced lessons, additional one-on-one instruction, better testing and accountability, and more.
San Antonio Superintendent Pedro Martinez says, “I think the right mix is the reverse of what we have now. My ideal is when we can have 70 percent of students in-person and 30 percent remote.”
Enter the hybrid learning model.
And San Antonio isn’t alone. Ten percent of district leaders surveyed by the RAND Corporation last fall said they had adopted or were considering a hybrid instructional model. Another 19 percent said they were at least considering offering ongoing online instruction.
Online learning is here to stay. While there are some undeniable challenges to online learning, potential benefits are equally impossible to ignore.
The Top Three Benefits of Online Learning
Online learning provides many opportunities for both individual students and entire districts. Here are some of the top benefits of online and hybrid learning.
1. Flexible learning and preparation for future employment. Some students have selected online learning as their education format of choice. With digital instruction, students can pursue asynchronous learning, which is when students can learn at their own pace and on their own schedules. It works well for self-motivated learners who do not need guidance to complete their assignments.
Online learning serves students beyond the classroom, too, because it prepares them for remote employment opportunities (a growing trend even before COVID-19). By mastering digital literacy skills required for online learning, such as video conferencing technologies, PowerPoint, and Excel, future professionals stand out in a competitive job market.
2. Bridging the distance between districts. The current education ecosystem is divided into two types of districts: focus districts and non-focus districts. Focus districts are defined by the RAND Corporation as agencies wherein the student population is 50 percent Black or Hispanic/Latino, or wherein at least 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Focus districts often don’t have the same resources as non-focus districts, such as AP classes or a wide range of language class offerings, which puts their students at a disadvantage when it comes to learning opportunities.
Technology, along with online instruction, can level the learning field. For example, schools can share resources with one another, connect with students across districts, and conduct those lessons remotely. By using remote education to bridge the distance between districts, students now have the opportunity to explore subjects otherwise unavailable to them.
3. Opening the classroom to all students, regardless of ability. Online, students can learn from the comfort and safety of their own homes. With online and hybrid instruction, students who are comfortable with a subject won’t be forced to slow down for the students who are struggling. With asynchronous learning, teachers can pay closer attention to each student’s performance and better support the students who need more help with one-on-one, individualized instruction.
Making the transition to online learning is important, but finding the right technology is key to enabling teachers to teach and learners to learn.
Five Questions to Help You Find the Best School Technology for Your District’s Needs
As we’ve noted, there are two major philosophical approaches to virtual learning: the hybrid model, which involves both live and online classes, and self-paced computer-based learning, done totally online, with a teacher proctoring and tracking progress. Regardless of which philosophical approach your school takes, successfully moving to an online learning model requires the right school technology to support the transition. Because online learning is different from traditional face-to-face learning, it requires different strategies to keep students actively engaged. Although engagement is a monumental challenge, the right school technology solution can help.
When considering an online learning model, here are questions a district needs to ask in order to select the best school technology solution:
1. How many classes are going to use an online learning model? This is critical for selecting a scalable solution.
2. What subjects will be offered online? Teachers can require very different solutions to support teaching styles and subjects. Evaluate if the instruction is going to be conducted while sitting or moving because this can create audio and video complexities. For example, a math class is going to be more stationary while a science class may incorporate an experiment and require movement and multiple cameras to provide important views. Choose a technology that enables, rather than hinders, learning.
3. What grade levels will be using this technology? Each age group may require a different approach to achieve active engagement. For example, what engages a third-grader will be quite different from what engages a tenth grader.
4. Will this technology support users? This is a nuanced question. From students to teachers, it’s important to make sure that everyone using the technology is comfortable with it. Including staff training will better set your school up for success. Make sure to also consider students’ learning speeds and environments, as well as the various levels of parental engagement to support students.
5. How do we pay for this? Figuring out funding can seem overwhelming, but don’t forget that many resources are available, such as funding options offered by select vendors and TPA COVID-19 relief money. As an example, at the end of 2020, Texas voters approved a $90-million bond to pay for new technology—including cameras and microphones—that will be used to broadcast teachers working from their classrooms into the homes of thousands of students.
While determining the right school technology solution requires the consideration of many variables, the best solution should be scalable, engaging, and accessible. If you need help selecting your school technology solution, figuring out your network requirements, or want to ensure that you’re keeping your information secure, talk to a professional.
That’s where Crux comes in.
CTA: Crux can help
Building a virtual learning environment that actively engages students, helps level the educational playing field, and protects information is a daunting challenge. But you don’t have to do it alone. Crux is here to help you understand your options and help you create a safe, connected environment. Our team is equipped to assist with connectivity, LTE network, budget, and more.
Connect with Crux, and together, we can create a roadmap for your district’s success!
Top 5 Blogs That Every Building Owner Should Be Following
Owning a building usually entails plenty of upkeep and maintenance. From time to time you’ll need to repair or replace certain pieces of the building, but overall, it might last for decades. The problem is, technology is racing forward and continues to provide new upgrades and innovations to make buildings safer, more secure, and more efficient. You probably shouldn’t jump at every single new idea that you see, but it doesn’t hurt to stay up-to-date on what’s happening.
At CRUX, we’re at the forefront of building design with technology and security systems, and we want to share our expertise with as many building owners as possible. With that in mind, we wanted to bring you our 5 favorite blogs that we think every building owner should be following.
Sentry Communications and Security
This blog from Sentry has everything you need to know about keeping your building safe and secure. Whether it’s a business, a warehouse, a hotel, or any other building, you’ll find information on how to protect it. You’ll find tips on security during inclement weather, how to best protect your store, and even security monitoring for your business office. It’s a great resource to come back to when you have questions about how to keep your property secure.
Green Building Elements
Sustainable building materials and additions are trending right now, and they may be the future for many construction projects. Not only should you keep an eye on new and innovative tech, but you can also look for additions that you can bring to your current building. Green Building Elements’ blog has the latest info and news that you need about all types of sustainable and environmentally friendly building materials and additions. With tax credits and other incentives available, it might be worth keeping an eye on your options.
Building Design + Construction
BD+C Magazine operates this blog, and it’s a great resource for information on non-residential building and construction topics. You’ll find all the latest news on new technology and innovations in the construction industry, as well as resources for buildings of all types. From offices to college buildings there’s something here for nearly everyone.
Building Owners and Managers Association
The BOMA website has tons of great resources for anyone who owns or manages a property and wants to keep it in the best shape possible. You’ll find plenty of white papers and case studies about issues that matter to you, as well as workplace transformation research and economic impact studies. This is definitely one that every building owner should have bookmarked.
The CRUX blog is one of the best resources available for industry knowledge and news about the challenges and opportunities being created by new technology. Building owners will find plenty of great reads that keep them in the know about the latest innovations and what may be coming next. You’ll be treated to informative and relevant posts on what matters most to you, and you’ll always be up to date on industry developments.
Want to learn more about the intersection of new technology and building design? Then contact CRUX today.
Changes to Texas School Safety Requirements from the 86th Texas Legislative Session – Part 5 – Threat Assessment Teams
In our previous post, we explored aspects of changes from the 86th Texas Legislative session related to socio-emotional health. We discussed most of those in the last post. Now let’s look at one additional aspect of it.
Senate Bill 11 (SB 11), the flagship bill, expands the use of threat assessment teams and requires the implementation of a safe and supportive schools program. Both threat assessment teams and a safe and supportive schools program span across the emergency preparedness and mental health areas of school safety. In fact, SB 11 addresses them in the same section of the bill that talks about emergency drills and terroristic threat notifications. We include them in our review of mental health-related changes because of how they support mental health interventions and action plans.
The bill’s implementing language is quite specific. It creates a new sub-section 37.115 to the Texas Education Code (TEC) that spells out various duties. It charges –
- The Texas Education Agency (TEA) to work with the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) to create rules for implementing a safe and supportive schools program.
- The local board of trustees to create policies and procedures for implementing threat assessment and safe and supportive schools teams at each campus.
- The superintendent to create the teams with the specified mix of skill sets and to provide for their oversight.
- The teams with carrying out a range of duties related to threat assessment, student and employee guidance, and implementing the district’s all-hazards emergency operations plan.
- The teams with reporting various data to the TEA
The TEA will need to clarify various aspects of this new section. As is typical with new legislation, it leaves much to interpretation.
Threat assessment teams in education originated from research published in 2002 by the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education. Many school districts have already embraced some form of them. The new law will likely standardize how they are implemented. The TxSSC has launched a series of training sessions to be conducted across the State of Texas over the next several months.
Some school districts are already using techniques from the safe and supportive schools program. Note that this is not the same thing as Safe and Sound Schools. The former is a body of knowledge and techniques that is organized and offered by the U.S. Department of Education. The latter is a private non-profit organization that grew out of the Sandy Hook tragedy. Both are excellent resources.
Changes to Texas School Safety Requirements from the 86th Texas Legislative Session – Part 3
In our previous post we explored aspects of changes from the 86th Texas Legislative session related to facility hardening and hostile events. Now let’s look at changes related to emergency preparedness.
Senate Bill 11 (SB 11) Section 10 is the cornerstone of the preparedness changes. Please read this bill in its entirety to understand it fully. As it goes with changes to law, much of it begs further clarification as to what it means exactly. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) will need time to set rules and issue guidance.
Leaders of open enrollment charter schools take note. Not only are there major changes to the rules, most of them now apply to you.
Previously, the education code required each district to have a multihazard emergency operations plan (EOP), but there was little oversight. Now, plans must be submitted regularly to the TxSSC for review (Section 15), the deadlines for submission are to be determined. There are now also consequences for non-compliance (Section 11), including requiring the Board of Trustees to hold a public hearing about it. The Legislature seems to have opted for calling the district out publicly for the first level of enforcement.
EOP requirements are strengthened and expanded in several ways. Essentially all the changes are additive to the existing requirements. The Legislature took little away. Here are some key points, with quotation marks representing exact wording in the bill.
- More focus on ensuring substitute teachers are trained appropriately to act as regular staff in both drill and live situations. Their readiness is a weak aspect of many districts’ training programs and daily operations.
- Ensuring classrooms have technology to allow for “immediate contact” with emergency services. Clarification is needed on questions like whether 911 calls can be made or disallowed from classrooms, or what emergency services means.
- “Measures to ensure district communications technology and infrastructure are adequate to allow for communication during an emergency”.
- Designation of a chain of command and alternate contacts for emergency response.
- Preparations for addressing psychological safety of students, staff and the community both during and after an event. There is quite a bit of language about this topic.
- Accommodations for people with disabilities to have “equal access to safety”.
- “…immediate notification to parents… in circumstances involving a significant threat to the health or safety of students…”. We will need a lot of agency help to figure this out.
The three year cycle for facility safety and security audits remains intact. The audit report must now be signed by both the board president and the superintendent. There always was a requirement to submit audit reports to TxSSC but now there are more meaningful consequences if you don’t. Like with EOPs, there are now consequences for not addressing the audit findings. Again, the Legislature appears to be driving accountability for taking this seriously.
There are significant changes to both the membership and duties of a district safety committee. The new membership is essentially what was suggested in Governor Abbott’s May 2018 plan and adds city/county emergency management, law enforcement, district trustees (board president plus one), teachers and parents. The committee must meet at least three times per year and conform to the open meetings act. Its duties are expanded to include making recommendations for updating the EOP. Bottom line, the safety committee is intended to be broader in makeup, much more active and influential than in the past.
Finally, House Bill 496 establishes requirements for having traumatic injury (stop the bleed) kits and training. This major gap in our preparedness is finally being addressed.
We will cover new mental health related requirements in our next posts.
The Legislature passed several new laws that impact school safety and impose new responsibilities upon public school districts, charter schools, the Texas Education Agency, and the Texas School Safety Center. We have created a free guide that summarizes the bills and how they may impact you.
Connect and Protect: Why CRUX is unique
Today, technology surrounds us in a way that we could hardly imagine just a few decades ago. We’re connected via our devices and laptops, as well as many appliances and other items in our home. And increasingly, the very buildings we work and live in are incorporating new technology into their design. Or at least, they should be.
In one survey, Hilton guests reported that they would rather have Wi-Fi than hot water in their rooms. That says something about how people expect to interact with their surroundings. Security is another fundamental need that people are increasingly coming to expect from their buildings. From schools to office spaces, safety and security has become essential.
At CRUX, we believe that the time has come for our buildings to incorporate security and technology into their design, and we work with architects, engineers, and building owners to do just that. We address their needs through our four core services—consulting, design, project management, and training.
During our design service, we’ll sit down with you to gather your requirements make sure we have an understanding of your needs and intentions. Our designs provide you with the ability to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of your technology, security, and audio-visual solutions. Good design requires expertise and experience, and that’s exactly what you’ll find at CRUX.
Our vast portfolio allows us to draw upon a huge reservoir of experience and find the right solution for your project. Consulting won’t always lead to a new design, nor should it always. It may lead to a new design, but our consulting engagement may uncover the need for training, project management, or even ongoing consulting.
Once we’ve decided on a path together, we provide project management services to ensure a smooth execution. Our goal is to make sure that our clients get a finished product that matches their specifications exactly, and one that is delivered on time and within budget.
Of course, having the technology at your disposal is only half the battle. We provide training for your staff that prepares them for emergencies such as intruders, bomb threats, active shooters, severe weather, and other specific types of threats.
At CRUX, we provide these four core services because we know that the entire process matters to you. Instead of a piecemeal approach with a new contract and business to deal with at every step, you get unparalleled service and commitment from CRUX throughout, from beginning to end.
When you work with us, you’ll receive individualized treatment—we sit down and listen to what you have to say. What are your needs? What’s your vision? We take the time to make sure we have a real understanding about each unique project. This isn’t a cookie-cutter approach, it’s a customized solution based on your needs.
And when we sit down to talk, you’ll have the ear of the most experienced team in the business. From small to midsize to massive—we’ve handled a wide range of projects, and we’ve been successful time and time again.
Our experience, dedication, and incomparable service and attention to detail have made us the best in the business. Contact us today and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Characteristics to Look for When Identifying Troubled Students
There is no debate that identifying threats before they happen is key to making our schools safer. This task is not simple. Students today have a complex life and display many emotions. This list of characteristics is a great place for SROs to start learning how to identify troubled students.
- History of tantrums and uncontrollable angry outbursts
- Often resorts to name calling, cursing or abusive language
- Habitually makes violent threats when angry
- Has previously taken a weapon to school
- Has a background of serious disciplinary problems
- Is on the fringe of his/her peer group with few or no close friends
- Is preoccupied with weapons, explosives, or other incendiary devices
- Has previously been truant, suspended or expelled from school
- Displays cruelty to animals
- Has little or no supervision and support from parents or a caring adult
- Has witnessed or been a victim of abuse or neglect in the home
- Has been bullied and/or bullies or intimidates peers or younger children
- Tends to blame others for difficulties and problems he or she causes
- Prefers print and digital media that expresses violent themes and acts
- Reflects anger, frustration and the dark side of life in school essays or writing projects
- Is involved with a gang or an antisocial group on the fringe of peer acceptance
- Is often depressed and/or has significant mood swings
- Has threatened or attempted suicide
Several states have recognized the critical importance of increasing SRO presence and training as a proven way to reduce the chance of school violence. NASRO recommends that each school have at least one specially trained SRO, however, many schools continue to lack even one.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott released a School Safety Action Plan in 2018. The plan observes that the best way to reduce the impact of school violence is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. The plan’s recommendations include:
- Collaboration between school officials and local law enforcement to heighten police presence on school campuses.
- Prioritized hiring of retired peace officers for school security, specifically, police officers, sheriff deputies, constables, and military veterans.
- Supporting an effective school marshal program by increasing the number of participants, providing extensive firearms training for participants, and increase funding towards establishing and running school marshal programs.
The Informal Role of the School Resource Officer
School Resource Officer Role is Evolving
The role of the SRO has been evolving for some time. NASRO found that SROs do not contribute to a school-to-prison pipeline. On the contrary, they do not arrest students for disciplinary actions that would normally be handled by the staff if the SRO were not there. Their focus is to help troubled students avoid the juvenile justice system altogether. It was determined that when SRO prevalence rose, the rate of juvenile arrests declined.
Read more at our School Resource Officer White Paper Page.
NASRO has an approach called the triad concept. This concept divides the SRO’s responsibilities into three areas: Informal Counselor, Law Enforcement, and Educator. In May of 2018, Texas Governor Greg Abbott commissioned a panel discussion over three days that uncovered a gap in the effectiveness of school counselors.
The panel concluded that licensed counselors are spending most of their time on academic counseling, leaving them little to no time to attend to mental health counseling.
NASRO’s approach is in line with Governor Abbott’s recent action plan, which recommends prioritizing the importance of the mental and behavioral health of students. One way of doing that is freeing up the licensed counselors to focus on those needs. The SRO, while not a licensed mental health counselor, could certainly help fill the gap as the Informal Counselor.
Creative Ideas as the Informal Counselor
An SRO’s assigned campus will dictate the SRO’s specific activities and programs. In a robust program, these wide-ranging activities could include:
- Meeting with principals each morning to exchange information gathered from parents, community members, and social media to detect potential spillover of threats, drug activity, and other behavior onto campus.
- Meeting with campus and community social workers to understand when and how at-home issues may be motivating a student’s disruptive behavior in order to work with school staff to ensure effective and supportive responses.
- Carrying two radios, one for school and one for the local law enforcement department, to monitor for and respond to issues on campus, or to be a familiar face if one of their students is involved in an incident off campus.
- Listening to students’ concerns about bullying by other students and taking those problems to school administrators to help develop solutions.
- Providing counseling and referrals when sex-abuse victims turn to them for help because of the relationship of trust officers have built with the students.
- Coordinating additional law enforcement resources to assist with large public events on school campuses, such as athletic events, dances, and community functions.
- Working with school administrators to keep the school’s emergency management plan updated.
- Scheduling and participating in emergency drills in conjunction with other local agencies.
- Coordinating a crime scene investigator to speak to biology classes.
- Instructing students on technology awareness, domestic violence, traffic-stop education, and bullying.
- Developing intervention, skills-development, and healthy lifestyle programs for elementary and middle school students so they are prepared to succeed in high school.
- Conducting home visits to contact parents of at-risk students and assist those families.
- During extended school-day programs, assisting students with their homework, playing basketball, and sharing dinner together.
- Creating and conducting a distracted driving course for students.
- Hosting summer activities. One idea is “bike rodeos” for students, that include bicycles donated by local merchants and the police department.
- Implementing programs like “Doing the Right Thing”, where educators select one student each month for lunch with the SRO and a photo in the local newspaper in recognition of their leadership skills.
Ideas sourced from NASRO.
Ready to get started on the Roadmap to Safer Schools? Contact Crux today..